So you’ve saved and saved and saved, put away your refund determined by a tax estimator, and now it’s finally time to hit the road. How are you going to manage that wad of cash while you’re away? The more thought and planning that you put into this before you leave, the easier it will all go while you’re on the road.
Managing The Bank Accounts
We used a two tiered bank account system:
- Our primary savings account was with a brick and mortar bank in our home town. This account was the highest interest savings account we could find so that we could maximize the money our money was making for us while we were away.
- Our daily use account was with an on-line bank that offered free ATM withdrawals in foreign countries. We kept at most $2000 at a time in this account and, as it depleted, we would transfer money to it from the primary savings account. We set this account up as a ‘bill payment’ on the primary account and would simply electronically pay the bill to fill up the account.
Our main method of obtaining cash while we were away was ATM’s. We had barely any trouble finding bank machines everywhere we went. Every major city or town has at least one. If we were heading somewhere very small we would make sure we had taken enough out already. Even Laos, which by all accounts had a dearth of ATM’s, had more than enough to make access easy.
Depending on the local ATM fees (remember, our bank account didn’t charge any ATM fees but sometimes the local machine itself does), we would take out enough money to last a couple of days. Cash is king on the road so this meant we always had to have enough to cover transport, hotel, food, drink and entertainment.
Have a back up!!! We carried two ATM cards each for our daily bank account and an additional ATM card each for the savings account. We never kept all of these in the same place for obvious reasons.
The need for this became abundantly clear on the day that the ATM machine in Nha Trang, Vietnam munched on Jason’s’ card. We watched in horror as it repeatedly didn’t spit it out all the way and kept sucking it back in…and then it stopped trying and just kept it. Bummer.
We used credit cards only for airline tickets and to secure reservations (if needed). The interest charged on credit cards is outrageous and so we paid the balance as soon as possible from our savings account. We used credit cards only for the convenience of them…it’s hard to pay for an online airline ticket with cash!
Ca$h Is King!
Cash ruled the world everywhere we went. Most places don’t take credit cards never mind debit cards and, even if they do, they likely charge more for the privilege (it costs them so they pass the cost on to you).
Never accept torn, ripped, dirty or wrinkled bills…if you do you are being used as a dumping ground for these bills. Merchants will often refuse bills that are torn, ripped, dirty or wrinkled too much so you shouldn’t accept them either.
Back Up To The Back Up
We carried $500US cash in our bags as the ultimate backup. We had heard that some visas and entry fees could only be paid in US cash (and found that to be true) so we brought this along for those occasions. We made sure that the bank issued us crisp, clean, unmarked, whole bills and kept them in that state as we travelled. Once in a while we found an ATM that dispensed US dollars (I have no idea why) and so we would top up this fund at that time, although the original $500 would have gotten us through.
Try to limit the cash you need to exchange at a border crossing – you will most definitely get ripped off. Not only is it a bad exchange rate but we found that sheisters tried (and succeeded) in confusing us by talking quickly, quoting exchange rates from one currency to American dollars and then into the second currency, and pushing to have the transaction take place quickly. More than once we walked away thinking ‘hey, wait a minute’…but it was done. We instituted a policy that we both had to understand and agree to the math before we made an exchange. If you want to get ahead of the game, click here to order your foreign currency before you get to your destination. That way you can avoid being ripped off!
Keep Track Of Every Dime
Always know the state of the budget. It’s fine to be over (and even better to be under!) but you should know where it’s going and have some idea whether you can make it up or not. The last thing you want is to run out of money before you run out of time!!
I set up a spreadsheet before we left that tracked all the money in about 6 categories (you can check it out here). We had a budget notebook with us all the time and would simply write down all the money we spent. Every couple of days I would update the spreadsheet – I had already set it all up to do the math so could keep track of it all very easily.